Welcome to the five hundred and eightieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author James Bishop. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, James. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
James: Hello Morgen. My name is James Bishop. I grew up in southern California and now live in northern California. I’m a bit of a “nerd” and a great lover of mathematics and computers. I also have synaesthesia, and write about it occasionally.
Morgen: I grew up with an older brother so I had no chance of escape nerdiness or techieness – I’m grateful for the latter. 🙂 You write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
James: I’ve written two non-fiction works, both completely different. The first, A Way in the Wilderness, is a commentary on the Rule of Benedict, and I wrote that on the insistence of a friend. My second non-fiction book, Rocket Man, is my autobiography, and my decision to write that was mostly based on personal catharsis. I needed to get it all out in the open, so to speak.
Morgen: I keep saying to my mum that she should write hers (amongst other things she was a groom for racing driver Stirling Moss’ sister and photographed several of our royals at show-jumping events). You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
James: I was very fortunate with Wilderness. It was picked up by the first publisher to whom it was offered, and I was delighted. When I finished Rocket Man, the publisher said it was not their genre, so I looked into self-publishing as an option and liked it very much. It just seemed easier at the time.
Morgen: I’ve seven eBooks and it’s really not that scary once you know how, or done one – I have a ‘how to guide’ on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/ebooks/how-to-create-an-ebook. Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
James: Oddly, I prefer paper, though both books are available as e-books. I say “oddly” because I’m very technically minded in many ways, but I have not been able to embrace the e-readers yet. I keep smelling them, hoping to find one that has the new book smell, but I’ve not found any yet.
Morgen: Maybe that’s the next era of technology. 🙂 Most people I speak to say they prefer paper, although it’s great having the choice – we no longer have to have a separate case / bag for our books. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
James: I had a say in both covers and titles for both books, and I think they are vital. I had a working title for A Way in the Wilderness, but it was horrendous and awkward. The publisher and I passed around a few ideas, and we settled on one I liked very much. I submitted artwork for the cover, but they wanted something entirely different. When they gave me some ideas, I chose the one I liked. For Rocket Man, I chose the title and I created the cover myself.
Morgen: It sounds like you have a great relationship with your publisher, you’re very lucky. What are you working on at the moment / next?
James: I’m working on some fiction stuff, a collection of short stories. Of course, I don’t know that they’ll all be short stories until I’m finished. I just write until I’m done, and if it’s short, then it goes into the short story pile.
Morgen: My favourite format of fiction. 🙂 Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
James: There are sometimes weeks where I’m more engrossed in the publishing end of things and I don’t get anything written. When I am in the “writing mode”, things go fairly well. My blocks usually don’t last very long, perhaps a few minutes. When I get blocks, I turn on some music. That usually unblocks me.
Morgen: 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
James: I edit, and then I edit again, and then I edit some more! I think of my works as statuary. The initial carving is good, but I have to go back over it and take out little nicks here and there, buff this, carve that, until I can say it’s done. Then, I sit on it for a while, perhaps start something else, and come back to it later, with a fresh mind. A little tip I learned from Stephen King.
Morgen: His ‘On Writing’ is the most recommended book in these interviews. He’s a very wise (experienced) writer. Do you have to do much research?
James: I do most of my research when the idea for the book is still forming in my head. I ask myself, is this possible? Can that be done? How does this normally work? It helps me dig out the idea and form it better.
Morgen: I’m the same; I keep flitting over to Google / Wikipedia and then Facebook and Twitter lure me sideways. It drives me nuts. I should just put ‘MORE HERE’ or ‘CHECK’ and come back to it but often knowing a fact helps me plough on (once I’ve cleared my messages!). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
James: I have pieces that I think will never see the light of day, and I have pieces that I HOPE will never see the light of day!
Morgen: 🙂 Do you pitch for submissions and / or are you commissioned to write?
James: No. I write my own stuff. But I’m always open for ideas.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
James: I had one rejection, and that was all it took to push me into the self-publishing world. I don’t listen to publishers; I listen to my target audience. I write, pass it on to a few of my readers I personally know, and get their opinions. I don’t really care if a publisher likes something or not. I care if my audience likes it.
Morgen: They are the ultimate purchasers. You have to hope that publishers know their audience but of course we all like different things so they have to go with what they think will make them money. It’s just finding the right thing for the right person. 🙂 Do you enter any non-fiction competitions?
James: I’ve never entered any. I think that competition would put my writing in an area where it’s being forced, and I don’t like to do that.
Morgen: I don’t enter many but like the themed ones because it gets me writing something new that I’d still have to do something else with if it didn’t get anywhere. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
James: I don’t have an agent. I’d like to have an agent, and I think they can greatly help an author’s success, but of course that depends on the agent. I’m looking for the right one.
Morgen: I’ve had mixed reports here but those who feel they’ve found the right one make the search worthwhile. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
James: I do all the marketing for my books. I design the press kits and websites myself. Not every writer can do that, but I’m fortunate that I can.
Morgen: Me too with WordPress blogs. 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
James: My favourite aspect is creativity. I think we were made to create, so it’s a wonderful feeling creating something. My least favourite aspect is the pay.
Morgen: Snap with favourite. I’m fortunate that I have two lodgers (housemates) to pay the bills so I can work from home. Like most writers, I could do with finding more (some) paying outlets. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
James: If it’s work, find something else to do. If you love doing it and you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, then do it, even if no one buys your books. Just keep doing it. If you can’t love what you do, then do what you love.
Morgen: That’s me – I do. 🙂 If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
James: What a great question!
Morgen: Thank you, it’s one of the newest.
James: My first choice would be Leonhard Euler, the eighteenth century mathematician. He’s fascinating on so many levels. Not only is he the guy behind the number “e” but he was also a very prolific writer. My second choice would be Roger Waters, the former lead of Pink Floyd. He’s an amazingly brilliant man. My third would be Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince. And what to serve?! Well, I would have to serve manicotti, gnocchi, and Crème brûlée. And for Roger, a bit of Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast.
Morgen: I’d go with Pink Floyd – even if it’s just having their music in the background – I think I have more of theirs than anyone else’s on my iPod (I’ve just switched from Adele – sorry Adele, can’t believe Skyfall didn’t get to number one! – to PF on iTunes :)). Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Morgen: Wow. Perhaps a sci-fi story about a Group 6 chemical elemental animal who only comes out then the planet is in darkness and it never is? (Thank you, Wikipedia) Do you write fiction? If so, do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
James: I am writing fiction now, and I think I am really beginning to like the heroine of my current work. She’s quirky, non-conformist, and very strong. I would hope that some day Rocket Man is made into a film. And I think either Jonathan Taylor Thomas or Lou Pucci should play the lead.
Morgen: Apart from writing articles about writing, all my work is fiction and the characters are really what I love creating, especially when they take the story off-piste. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
James: I plot them, outline them, plan them to terrifying detail, and then as I write I discover that all my planning was really not very useful. It is said that the best way to make God laugh is to make plans.
Morgen: 🙂 I planned the first novel but soon same to the same realisation so it’s been sketchy ideas since then. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
James: With fiction, my characters are real people. I don’t mean they’re people here in this real world, but they’re people in the world of the book. I have to believe that world is real, and I try to get to know the people who are there before I write. I dig them out, just like the story plots. If they’re not real people, they won’t be believable. I used to think that the difference between fiction and non-fiction was that non-fiction was true. Actually, they’re both true. Non-fiction is truth confined to this realm, and fiction is truth in any other realm.
Morgen: It is. If the readers don’t believe something’s possible then they’ll switch off (put… or maybe throw the book down). What point of view do you find most to your liking?
James: It depends on the work. Rocket Man is first person because it’s my story, so that just made sense. A Way in the Wilderness has autobiographical elements, so it’s done the same way. My first fiction piece was third person, because it was important to see the main character as others saw him. The reader had to be outside him. My second fiction work is first person because the reader must identify with the main character.
Morgen: Different points of view suits different works and I can certainly see why Rocket Man would work best in first. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
James: Isn’t that enough?! But seriously, no. I write software, but I don’t think that counts!
Morgen: If it’s writing software it does. 🙂 What do you do when you’re not writing?
James: I love listening to music. I have synaesthesia, so I experience music a little differently than most people, and it’s become very important to me. Even with my writing, music has been my muse.
Morgen: Some writers prefer a noisy atmosphere, some silence whereas I’m a classical fan – words in music distracts me too much. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
James: Well, of course, I’d like to recommend my own web site (he said, shamelessly): http://authorjamesbishop.com. There are links there to see sample pages, buy the books, and more.
I’d like to recommend the book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. This book really motivated me because I realized that I made more money on my first book than Stephen King did on his first book. That gave me a little hope! I don’t really use too many websites for my work. My greatest resource is a computer dictionary called “dict” by Rik Faith (firstname.lastname@example.org). And, of course, my very twisted little mind.
Morgen: If you can’t be shameless in an interview that’s all about you, where can you be? 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
James: I am @AuthorBishop on Twitter. I am on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/authorbishop). I am also on GoodReads.com and have a blog there (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5831525.James_Bishop).
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
James: I think we will always need artists, including writers. An artist expresses the ineffable, and there will always be a need for that. The medium may change over time, but the core art is still there.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
James: Thank you very much for your time.
Morgen: You’re very welcome, James. It’s been great having you here.
I then invited James to include a synopsis of one of his books and here is the back cover blurb on Rocket Man:
Adopted at birth, James dreams of becoming an astronaut. His own experiences of separation anxiety, synaesthesia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and rape begin to melt away his dream. Turning to alcohol and drugs, James faces the biggest challenge of his life.
Rocket Man is the gripping true story of a gifted but troubled man who loses his sanity and discovers his humanity. An emotional and inspirational reinvention of man.
James Bishop was born in a monastery in Los Angeles. He is a Benedictine Oblate monk and has synaesthesia. He has written about meditation, mathematics, and his experiences with synaesthesia. He lives in northern California.
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